Dawn Fitch - Turning illness into a business
Dawn Fitch had no business or marketing experience before launching Pooka Pure & Simple with three friends in 2001. A graphic artist by trade, she started freelancing after realizing that she could do better financially working for herself than for a firm. She was not prepared for the demands of entrepreneurship, she says. “It kinda fell into our laps. I work now more than before,” she says. She’s had to learn how to turn her mind off, eat well and exercise. “My body is my business,” she says.
That’s exactly where Pooka Pure & Simple began—with Fitch’s body four years ago, when she became mysteriously ill. With no diagnosis forthcoming, she turned to natural remedies and discovered the healing, relaxing attributes of aromatherapy. Two years later, she learned she was hypoglycemic. With sugar banned from her diet, she had to educate herself about the ingredients in all products. Soon, she saw how the natural components of a product are diluted by the addition of synthetic, or chemical, components.
Pooka—the name comes from “Pookalitas,” a term of endearment her mother used—was formed to provide “something good for your skin to eat,” according to the company’s founders. “Pooka products are handmade, natural products. There’s a lot of variety. Pooka is fun, aesthetically pleasing, and it’s good for you. [It’s the] best of both worlds,” Fitch says.
Fitch runs the East Orange, N.J., business with her three best friends. Before friends go into business together, she advises, in order to survive, “make sure you’re best friends. You’ll never agree on everything. Just agree to disagree . . . and pray a lot,” she adds. Her own family and her partners’ families are an integral part of balancing the daily demands of running a business.
Investors helped address the financial challenge. “Small business loans are hard to get. We had no start-up money. We did eventually get two small investors,” Fitch says. Affordable staffing is hard to come by and promotion and marketing and travel expenses add up. “There are four of us running the business (and we’re running ourselves) to the bone,” Fitch says. But the “very good response” to Pooka is worth it, she adds quickly.
Pooka markets its products through Pooka Parties, a cash-and-carry concept where “the Pooka girls come to you.” They demonstrate the products, describing their ingredients and the different uses of each, teach about essential oils, play scent games, offer prizes and engage in discussions. The hostess provides food and drinks. The parties last one to one and a half hours, then it’s shopping time. “People leave very informed,” Fitch says. Spa parties, upon request, offer massages, facials, manicures and pedicures. As of late 2004, Pooka offers a sales rep program similar to Avon’s. The goal is to turn clients into reps or Pooka Party hosts, Fitch says.
Pooka also offers Relaxation Workshops at companies, where participants learn to make products, blend oils, salts and fragrances and sample new products. “There is tea and you learn the effects of different teas,” Fitch says. These workshops last about two and a half hours with lunch included, then the shopping begins.
Fitch and her partners plan to open a Pooka Day Spa. For now, the Pooka brand is carried at two Whole Foods supermarket branches, one in Edgewater, N.J., and the other in Madison, N.J. “God has blessed us,” Fitch says.
Dawn Fitch, president, Pooka Pure & Simple
East Orange, N.J.
By Nafisa Rachid